Notes for the Fifth Lecture



The interpretation of the bible and literary texts. Now often applied to film as well if the film is regarded as a text. Hermeneutics if generally used to arrive at a subtext although care must be taken in terms of reading in or reading out of the text.

While the History of Movies has concentrated on the narrative films, almost all programs contained many parts. There were often 2 films (possibly an A film and a B film)

1. Newsreels
2. Shorts (travelogues) /comedies (Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang)
3. Cartoons
4. Coming Attractions (trailers)
5. serials

A typical Saturday afternoon at a local movie theater often consisted of a double feature; cartoons, a newsreel, a chapter from the serial, a short and one or more cartoons. In some places in the 40’s admission was a coca cola bottle! The movies served as baby-sitter allowing parents to have something of a free day - rather inexpensively

These "small" forms of films are often overlooked by films studies scholars. In part they played a small role in the film business. Few people went to the “movies” to see the cartoons, coming attractions or newsreels. Of all these the serials (and certainly the later were more likely to draw an audience or help decide whether to go or not. On same days, the theaters might run many cartoons which encouraged parents to send their children since these were not (like many movies) to cause the children to see materials that in those days was considered “too mature”,

In terms of the actual films, many of the "b" level films are often ignored by film scholars as being of little artistic merit, but in fact were sufficiently cheap to make and brought ina great deal of money in return to allow studios to make their more “acceptable” art films. Singing cowboy films were cheap to make and very popular as were B level mysteries and some horror films.

These films also provided a good training ground for actors and directors to try their talents. Both Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise were moved to “A” level films after showing their talents in the early Val Lewton films like Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie, Curse of the Cat People and Leopard Man

After many years some film scholars have taken second looks at some of these B level films and found them far more interesting than originally thought.


Newsreels were a constant source of information in ore TV days. It has been said that the Viet Nam war was the first war to be brought into eoples homes through news programs. Before that actual motion pictures of events could be seen only through the news reels in films
Newsreels were so common and known to all movie goers that when Welles used on to open Citizen Kane no one would have wondered what it was. reference Citizen Kane)
Its roots lie in 1896 Paris, France, when Société Pathé Frères was founded by Charles Pathé and his brothers, who pioneered the development of the moving image. Charles Pathé adopted the national emblem of France, the cockerel, as the trademark for his company. After the company, now called Compagnie Générale des Éstablissements Pathé Frère Phonographes & Cinématographes, invented the cinema newsreel with Pathé-Journal. French Pathé began its newsreel in 1908 and opened a newsreel office in Wardour Street, London in 1910.
In the 20th century It became the largest Film Equipment and production company in the world. As a reslut it wwas a prestigeous company to be involved with as a distributing company.
In December 1928, the French and British Pathé phonograph assets were sold to the British Columbia Graphophone Company. In July 1929, the assets of the American Pathé record company were merged into the newly formed American Record Corporation.[5] The Pathé and Pathé-Marconi labels and catalogue still survive, first as imprints of EMI and now currently EMI's successor Parlophone Records.
In the United States, beginning in 1914, the company built film production studios in Fort Lee and Jersey City, NJ, where their building still stands. The Heights, Jersey City produced the extremely successful serialised episodes called The Perils of Pauline. By 1918 Pathé had grown to the point where it was necessary to separate operations into two distinct divisions. With Emile Pathé as chief executive, Pathé Records dealt exclusively with phonographs and recordings while brother Charles managed Pathé-Cinéma which was responsible for film production, distribution, and exhibition.
Since then various companies have taken over parts of Pathe: Warner Borthers, Disney,20th Century Fox

There were, of course other distributing comapnies like Educational, but these were is terms of prestige seen as lower ranked comapnies,


Shorts typically ran from 10 minutes to about 30 minutes, Typically a Saturday matinee would include two feature films (alled a "double feature" and "A' and a "B" film or two "b" films; a travelogue; a comedy, one or more cartoons a chapter from a serial and a set of coming attractions.


(See Thomas Meehan's NY Times article "those-old-movie-travelogues-or-as-the-sun-sinks-slowly-in-the-west"
These traveloques were light documentaries no more usually than 10 miutes in length in which the audience was given a superficial tour of some country and its culture - usuallly in terms of its arts and crafts and senic beauty, The most famous were those of James A. FitzPatrick, who wrote, directed produced and often narrated> The films were always in color and known under the series name MGM distributed a series of his travel films under the umbrella titles "Fitzpatrick Traveltalks" and "The Voice of the Globe" when released by MGM, and with Paramount as "Vistavision Visits."


In addition to the travelogues there were "specialties" that were comedic.

a. Pete Smith who produced about 150 "Pete Smith Specialties" which ran from the 1930's until 1955;These were an assorted mixture of films that ran the gamut from household hint to animals actingin human activities. Dave O'Brien was the major performer in the films. Later another series known as "Joe McDoakes" or "Behind the Eight Ball" or "So ou Want" appeared with George O'Hanlon (the voice of George Jetson on The Jetssonsplaying Joe. The series ran from 1942-1956. Some of the series dealth with wayss to get to beome a member of some profession hence "So You want to be"

b. John Nesbitt's "The Passing Parade"(aka "John Nesbitt's Passing Parade"). This was initially a radio series that Nesbitt created, wrote and narrated. It became an Oscar-winning series from MGM. The series generally concerned strange-but-true stories of historical events involving both the unknown and famous such as Catherine de' Medici and Nostradamus.

Comedies Two studios were associated in the silent film era that merit special notice: Mack Sennett and Hal Roach a. MACK SENNETT
Mack Sennett is considerrd a pioneer of film comedy. Called the "King of Comedy"
Learned under D. W. Griffith
Frenetic roughhouse slapstick no stop action belly laughs.
Had is own company Keystone and between 1912 and 1919 he produced a number of shorts comeddies
By the 20’s th0ugh, things had changed an audiences had gotten "usedto" films and more to characterization and deliberate pacing. Sennett also had a problem in that his performers often left when they became stars (CHarlie Chaplin Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chase, and Gloria Swanson among other)
Initially distributed through Pathe, he moved to Educational as a distributor of his films which lowered his status but freed him from many administrative problems and he went back to directing which he loved.
He experimented with color and also with putting songs into his short films in which a young Bing Crosby appeared in a series
Sennett also "discovered" W.C. Fields who also did a few films for him
Perhaps he is most associated with the "Keystone Kops"

Hal Roach Studios Often consider greatest comedy production company of the 30s
Hal Roach: Our Gang (also known as The Little Rascals or Hal Roach's Rascals)
1922-1938 was the meight of the studios popularity
1939-1944 Not as popular, started losing money,
Among the persormers who were to become famous were:

Dickey Moore (John Richard Moore Jr). (September 12, 1925 - September 7, 2015) was an American actor known professionally as Dickie Moore and later as Dick Moore.
Jackie Cooper John Cooper Jr. (September 15, 1922 – May 3, 2011)
Robert Blake (born Michael James Gubitosi; September 18, 1933 – March 9, 2023)
There were several groups (like Our Gang) that appeared in anumber of shorts, apossibly the most famous team was Laurel and Hardy


Stan Laurel 16 June 1890 - 23 February 1965)
Oliver Hardy January 18, 1892 - August 7, 1957)

Silent comedy of course relied on physical comedy not verbal
Both started out in silent before they met one another (Hardy actually appears in a silent version of The Wizard of Oz as the Woodsman, A knight of the Garter and a farm hand
They appeared as a team in 107 films, starring in 32 short silent films, 40 short sound films, and 23 full-length feature films. They also made 12 guest or cameo appearances, including in the Galaxy of Stars promotional film of 1936.[5] On December 1, 1954, they made their sole American television appearance, when they were surprised and interviewed by Ralph Edwards on his live NBC-TV program This Is Your Life. Since the 1930s, their works have been released in numerous theatrical reissues, television revivals, 8-mm and 16-mm home movies, feature-film compilations, and home videos. In 2005, they were voted the seventh-greatest comedy act of all time by a UK poll of professional comedians.[6] The official Laurel and Hardy appreciation society is The Sons of the Desert, after a fictitious fraternal society in the film of the same name.
They appeared in a film called The Lucky Dog although not together.Forty Five Minutes from Hollywood is their first film as a team.
Initially they worked separately for Hal Roach and later as a team. Roach is the one who seems to have had the greatest impact on their development. However after a major disagreement between Roach and Laurel over the script for "Babes in Toyland" (aka "March of the Wooden Soldiers") Roach said he would not produce for Laurel again although the contract ran 6 more years
In 1938 Roach started using United Aritists for distribution, instead of MGM. He was still obligated to MGM for one more film which became the Laurel and Hardy Blockheads. Roach said publically that this would be Laurel and Hardy’s "farewell film" and he did not renew Laurel’s contract. Hardy's contract was still in force and he had to do one more film for Roach - Zenobia with Harold Langdon. There was some talk that this fueled a problem between Laurel and Hardy but it is unclear. Together, they worked for one film for an independent producer - Boris Morros and made The Flying Deuces under his auspices.
Roach thought of making 40 minutes "featurettes" that would fit into double features. To this end, he recalled Laurel and Hardy for 2 such films. One was A Chump at Oxford, the other Saps at Sea. United Artists was not impressed with the idea. So the two fills were turned into full length films.
Laurel and Hardy then split permanently from Roach and went to 20th Century Fox in 1941. The following year they went to MGM in 1942(we shouldn’talk about this because 1942 is beyond out 1941 limit). They made 8 features which remained popular with the public until 1944. Suffice it to say their films fell off and their last film, Atoll-K (1950-51) was pretty much a disaster. It was released with 18 minutes cut in the US as Utopia.
Unusual for a comedy duo where one is the comedian and the other the "straight man". Both Laurel and Hardy were comedians, But they bot could play straight and did so whenever necessary, Hardy was the master of the slow burn and exasperation, while Laurel was constantly confused and lost and too late to realize his mistakes, They try it seems to realize the "American dream" but always fall short.
There are stock phrases and gestures associated with them "Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into" (Hardy)
Laurel is often frustrating Hardy with physical things like "finger wiggle" "earsy nosey"
Hardy has a famous "tie twiddle"" to cover embarrassment He also has a look at the camera which breaks the fourth wall to show exasperation or disgust. Lou Costello years later also tends to "breal the fouth wall"
When sound came, Laurel was famous for his confused remarks or "spoonerisms" words in which words or letters get transposed "Overbounding your steps" rather than "overstepping your bounds"
In 1932,"The Music Box" won the Oscar for Best Short Subject, Comedy; Hal Roach Studioa
In 1960, Laurel was presented with an Academy Honorary Award "for his creative pioneering in the field of cinema comedy."

The Serial

The serial has its own interesting history. Serials began in the silent movie period. Initially, a serial was a set of stories around a given person or persons, much the way a television series is today where a character or characters (played by the same performers) have innumberable adventures, each broadcast is complete in itself. Some of the early silent serials like The Hazards of Helen were like that.The complete series ran 119 12 minute episodes, each a story in itself.In total, the Hazards of Helen ran some 23.8 hours!
Later the "cliff hanger" developed in which the story was divided into chapters, each one of which left a major character (often the lead) in a life threatening situation. Audiences would have to come back the next week to see how the endangered person escaped. Sometimes writers got people into situations they could not exticate themselves from in any logica way and s in the next chaoter they simply had escaped!

One of the most famous was The Perils of Pauline with Pearl White.

Like most of the cliff hangers, the stories were thin with lots of action and plenty of work for the stunt performers!

Of all the later serials, the three Flash Gordon serials (Flash Gordon, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars and Flash Gordon Conquors the Universe) may be the most popular.It starred Buster Crabbe an Olympic swimming medalist as "Flash". At the time it was made, the initial series was claimed to have cost over a million dollars making it the most expensive serial made at that point, Others have argued it was a little over $300,000.The series borrowed much of its sets and props and music from earlier films (especially the Universal horror films made my the same studio that made Flash Gordon) and much classical music that was out of copywrite like Liszt' Les Preludes and Wagner's Parsifal